Sh** Colombians Say, Part 2

A series of posts dedicated to the intricacies of cultural Spanish expressions that offer insight on the Colombian experience. Some may be specific to Latin American Spanish, the Andean region, Colombia, in and around Bogotá, small towns or even the kids at my school. They’ve caught my interest and maybe  found their way into my vocabulary.

Ganas is the best word ever and I’ve been in love with it since I first heard it in Spain. There’s really not a direct translation, it’s something along the lines of “enthusiasm,” “drive” or maybe a strong expression of “feel like it.” It’s constructed with the verb tener, so it’s said like “You have to have ganas” or “I do/don’t have ganas to do something.” You can have ganas to win a game, to get a good grade, to go to the movies or eat ice cream. It’s versatile and positive – even if you don’t have ganas to do something, it’s nicer than saying you don’t want to. Let’s face it, you gotta have ganas.

Time

Stereotypes blah blah blah, Latinos are late, cultures in South/Central America are more laid-back and time is a more relaxed concept. In my experience, it’s typically true, and I’m ok with it for the most part. Let’s be serious, I haven’t been on time for a social engagement in years, so clearly I’ve adopted the habit in some ways. Sometimes, though, it’s a struggle.

Ya! “Ya” is an extremely common Spanish word. It’s excellent because it means “now,” “already,” “almost,” “soon,” “yet” and just about every other time expression. It’s terrible for that same reason. If someone inserts “ya” into a phrase, it is absolutely impossible for a non-native speaker to determine the meaning or timeframe indicated. Ya is perfect for operating on loathed Latino time, because saying “ya” doesn’t pin you down to any specific hour. It makes life confusing in all situations, and I absolutely cannot stand it coming from my students’ mouths.

Standing in the hall talking instead of going into my class? “Ya, profe, I’m coming.”

30 minutes into class and they haven’t even cracked their notebooks, let alone started the assignment? “Ya, ya ya! I’m doing it!”

Homework due? “I’ll give it to you ya.

What time do you have to leave for the field trip? “We’re going ya!”

Already? Soon? Now? Later? WHEN??????

Ahora/ahorita Unlike its counterpart above, “ahora” has a literal, fixed meaning. It translates to “now.” It does not mean the same thing that our “now” means. Ahora and its sneaky diminutive ahorita can mean any time from today to…never. It’s one of the hardest words to adjust to culturally, because we don’t take “now” lightly in the northeast USA. I’ve decided, after about 16 months of international field research in various Spanish-speaking countries, that there is no way to ever pin down the concept of right NOW this very second that I’m speaking no questions asked. My students will say they’re doing something “ahorita”, and my response is “NO. NOW.” Classic example of something they can only learn from a native speaker. I always have to slow down my Spanish and pantomime madly when trying to figure out if something is actually “ahora,” the way my inner Nutmegger like things to be ”ahora,” or if it’s the other kind, the way Colombia does “now” (and possibly everyone not within 3 hours of Boston or NYC? THE HORROR.)

Ok we have an assembly…now…but NOW NOW? Right now? Like, I’m teaching two more classes now, or everyone else is already in the auditorium now?

Yet of course, the vagueness is liberating when I can say it myself.